Review: Little House on the Prairie: Legacy Movie Collection DVD


Note: this review includes spoilers, including the reveal of a death of a major character.

THE SET-UP
This boxed set includes three TV movie specials from the classic “Little House on the Prairie” series: “Look Back to Yesterday,” “Bless All the Dear Children,” and “The Last Farewell.” The films are loosely based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which recall her life with her parents, Charles and Caroline, and her husband Almanzo, in the late 1800s. Stars Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert, Victor French, and Dean Butler.

Disc 1: “Look Back to Yesterday” and “The Last Farewell.”
Disc 2: “Bless All the Dear Children.”

THE DELIVERY
After production on the Little House on the Prairie series ended in early 1983, NBC gave the series a nice wrap-up with a series of TV movie specials. Because the films were shot after the series had finished production, not all of the major cast members return for the films. Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon) appears in only two of the three films, and Karen Grassle (Caroline Ingalls) only returned for the series finale. Scottie MacGregor, who played fan-favorite foil Harriet Oleson, doesn’t appear in any of the movies at all. The only constant is Melissa Gilbert, who truly grew into her own as an actress during the show’s run playing Laura Ingalls Wilder. Originally cast in the role at the age of 10, she was the heart and soul of the show by the series’ end, even though the series was initially a vehicle for Michael Landon. Victor French, who plays the lovable Mr. Edwards, is along for all three films, and even directed two of them.


Little House on the Prairie was appointment television in my home growing up. Many of today’s viewers may turn their nose up at the show’s wholesome brand of storytelling, in favor of today’s more sophisticated, cynical dramas, but there is no denying Little House’s ability to deliver an entertaining hour that the entire family can watch. The TV films continue that tradition, and though I may perhaps be a bit biased with my personal nostalgia, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing these TV movies again.

“Look Back to Yesterday” aired in December 1983 and “Bless All The Dear Children” aired in December of 1984. The series finale, “The Last Farewell,” actually aired as the second of the three movies, in February of 1984. Since “Bless All The Dear Children” had a Christmas theme, it aired ten months after the series finale, during the holiday season. For purposes of continuity, we will review each in the order they should be viewed.

“Look Back to Yesterday” (directed by Victor French)
Little House is known for its tear-jerker episodes, but most never came close to this TV film. Albert (Matthew Labyorteaux), the adopted son of the Ingalls family, has plans to attend medical school and become a doctor, but those plans are derailed when he learns he has a fatal blood disease.

Most of the film entails Albert and Charles (Landon) leaving the city and returning to Walnut Grove to stay with Laura and Almanzo. While there, everyone must come to terms with Albert’s impending death, but Laura is having a hard accepting the inevitable.


The film tries hard to give an uplifting ending (Albert’s death isn’t actually shown), but that doesn’t make the overall tone any brighter. For long-time fans of the show, who saw Albert grow up, it’s a bittersweet film.

Cameo alert: keep an eye out for a young Melora Hardin (The Office) as Albert’s love interest.

“Bless All The Dear Children” (directed by Victor French)
In this Christmas-themed film, Rose, the daughter of Laura and Almanzo, is taken by a grief-stricken woman eager to replace her baby after a miscarriage. With the help of an orphan who has tagged along, Laura, Almanzo, and Mr. Edwards set out in search of Rose.

Meanwhile, back in Walnut Grove, Jason Carter (David Freidman) is trying to earn extra money for Christmas by offering to chop down Christmas trees, but isn’t having much luck. When he is finally hired to cut down a tree for Nancy Oleson (Allison Balson), hijinks ensue.

Although there is a fair amount of melodrama, the film captures the sweet-natured, optimistic tone that made Little House such a popular series. The ending may be a little far-fetched, and a little too neatly wrapped, but seriously, it’s a Little House Christmas. Just go with it.


“The Last Farewell” (directed by Michael Landon)
In the series finale, the residents of Walnut Grove learn that the entire town is actually owned by a railroad tycoon, ,and their deeds are worthless. Rather than giving over their homes and the town to him, the residents of Walnut Grove take a radical step: they blow up the town with dynamite. It’s a surprising and sad ending to the series, but the film does manage to serve as a satisfying final note. The major actors all get their time in the spotlight, especially Landon and Grassle, who had great chemistry as Ma and Pa Ingalls during the nine seasons the series was on the air.

For fans of Little House, or those just discovering the series, the three films of The Legacy Movie Collection are essential watches. The bittersweet tone most of the films take may not make for many repeat viewings, but there’s no denying that this was, and still is, great television.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
All three films are remastered and restored from what were obviously clean prints, as fans are treated to a solid video transfer. There are limitations in the standard definition image; the video is sometimes soft (not counting those times when a “frosty” lens was deliberately used), and grain is often present, although it isn’t very distracting. The soundtrack is an English 2.0 Dolby Digital mix that has surprisingly good clarity despite the age.


SPECIAL FEATURES
None, unless you count the Ultraviolet Digital Copy of the three films. It’s a disappointment, as any behind-the-scenes extras or interviews would have been a nice addition for fans.

THE BOTTOM LINE: “Little House” ends with bittersweet stories
Despite the bittersweet tone of most of the films, the Little House Legacy Movie Collection is an entertaining trio of TV movies that give an emotional yet entertaining ending to the classic series. The remastered films provide a solid technical presentation, but the lack of extras is a minus.

DVD SPECS
Release Date: September 13, 2016
Rating: Not rated
Running time: 300 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English, French, and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Special Features: Digital Copy
Label: Lionsgate

Click here to order Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy Movie Collection on DVD from Amazon!

Victor Medina is a freelance writer based in Dallas. He is the editor of several websites, and his writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, Cinelinx.com and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at vic@victormedina.com.

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